Art blankets Broadway Bridge for centennial

Monday, 7/29/13 - 12:12 pm

Tyler Mackie always loved riding her bike over the Broadway Bridge on her way to work.

“It’s a very sort of thrilling moment when you’re biking over the bridge,” she says. “You feel the fresh air, especially in the morning, and if it’s a blue-sky day it’s really wonderful.”

Mackie, a native of Northeast Portland, is the artist behind the four “yarn bomb” panels hanging on the Broadway Bridge this summer in celebration of its 100th birthday. Mackie, 32, describes yarn bombing as a “soft form of graffiti” used to soften urban landscapes. The four colorful 18-by-21-foot blankets are part of a volunteer project that brings the community together in celebration of a landmark year for a Portland icon.

“I just thought that a ‘wind in the sails’ piece would just lift people up even a little more on their bike ride, run or walk over the bridge from one side of town to the other,” Mackie says.

The Broadway Bridge, owned and maintained by Multnomah County, was built in 1913. In preparation for the bridge’s centennial, the PDX Bridge Festival invited the public to propose ways to celebrate the bridge’s birthday. Mackie saw a “yarn bomb” on the railing a few years ago and toyed with the idea of doing a larger-scale project.

Mackie, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting and drawing, loved art as a kid and even mended her socks for fun.

“I still think about things as a painter but the material of paint is no longer necessary,” she says.

Mackie, who began working on the project in October, sought volunteers from local yarn shops to help knit the squares that she hand-sewed together. Mackie helped fund her project through a web campaign, support from her family and other donations.

Textile installations typically use acrylic yarn, but Mackie has used all-natural merino wool so that the pieces can be washed. She has always wondered what happens to large-scale art projects after they’re taken down and wanted her work to be more sustainable. After the installation, the canvases will be divided into 48 blankets that will be donated to Human Solutions, SnowCap Community Charities and Clackamas Women’s Services.

Her fundamental goal in art, Mackie says, is to get people to take a break in their regular day — even for a few seconds — to notice or think about something else.

“My main goal in art is to frame a moment of new thought,” Mackie says.

The multi-colored canvases blowing in the wind are eye-catching against the Broadway Bridge’s brick-red paint.

“They’re happy and they’re uplifting,” Mackie says. “Maybe there’s going to be a gray day and then it will really brighten everyone’s day.”

The canvases will be on display through August 15th.

For more information about the Bridge For Blankets project and other Broadway Bridge centennial events, such as the Aug. 10 block party, visit the PDX Bridge Festival’s website.